Locked down, allowed to venture out for shopping and exercise and forbidden to travel, I resorted to looking back over past holidays. So when did passenger trains fall out of favour in USA? I recall old black and white films where the characters travelled by train – but today everyone flies. Yes, flying between cities is quicker than crawling along a train track BUT hanging around in the terminals either end can reduce the time saved considerably. And you can move about on a train – you are not trapped in a narrow seat worrying about DVT. So in 2014 when I needed to fly east from a family visit in California to visit family in New York I decided to take the train. After researching the Amtrak routes from LA to NY I decided to take the California Zephyr from San Francisco to Chicago, then take another train from Chicago to NY. My sister decided to accompany me on the first leg so that we could spend a few days together exploring Chicago. It is possible to take a train north from LA but it proved much simpler to fly.
The terminus for the California Zephyr is at Emeryville, so my sister and I flew into Oakland to spend a night in a hotel near the train station ready for our adventure. The cheapest way to travel on a passenger train is to book a reclining seat but NOT for two and a half days! Instead we chose a roomette which comprised two comfortable seats facing each other. At night these seats converted into bunks. I still do not know how my amazing sister managed to clamber up onto the top bunk but am very grateful that she did. There was little space in the roomette for luggage so we checked in our large bags. The seats were comfortable enough to spend all day in but even better was to grab a seat in the Observation Car. Even though we were travelling in April we had spectacular views of snow on the mountains. Taking a shower reminded me of being on a barge on the Norfolk Broads: basic but cramped. The food in the Dining Car was okay – a step or two up from the meals on a plane. Would I do the journey again? Well, once the Covid pandemic is under control it might be fun to take the Zephyr to travel west in the middle of winter when the snow would be even more scenic.